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OPINION:
Vote of No Confidence: Assign that to US inspectors on government payrolls of USDA and FDA. US food corporations are starting to spend big time to reassure their consumers that foodstuffs are safe to eat. For a decade EU nations - the world's largest meat-fruits-vegetables importer in 2007 - retained private entity GlobalGap to set and police safety guidelines. While a bit late to seek such Wal-Mart, McDonald's Corp. and Wegmans Food Markets have retained GlobalGap to do the work once handed over to ill-prepared USDA and FDA. Worldwide safety guidelines set by GlobalGap approved 2007 imports to Europe valued at $20 billion. Private regulator GlobalGap counts 81,000 farms in 76 countries as members, up from 18,000 in 2004, so says The Wall Street Journal. GlobalGap has an annual budget of $4.3 million - and only 11 employees. Our thought: Even Lou Dobbs would approve emergency outsourcing what USDA and FDA are supposed to be doing today. Lives depend on it. Editorial note: Retain GlobalGap as a US government contractor to save our souls.


Too Little Too Late;
Why Not Food Czar?

12FEB 2008

(Writer Ann Bagel Storck, wrote this story for one of this nation's most resourceful Internet postings of things food: www.meatingplace.com.

Our editorial comment: More under secretaries for food safety we do not need. H. Scott Hurd would make a fine Food Czar for the nation.)


Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer announced the appointment of H. Scott Hurd as deputy under secretary for food safety at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The position had been open since Kurt Mann left last year.

Hurd comes to the Food Safety and Inspection Service from Iowa State University, where he has served as an epidemiologist in the College of Veterinary Medicine for the past three years. At Iowa State, Hurd led research of epidemiology and food risks affecting human health. He specializes in salmonella, campylobacter and antibiotic resistance risk assessments.

Prior to becoming an associate professor at Iowa State, Hurd served in USDA's Agricultural Research Service and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service from 1989 to 2004.

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TALK Topic for today's Grumpy Gourmet 101 session.........

Today we gather to mourn an old friend, the latest victim of E.coli.....

popeye

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A ruined fresh spinach industry: Early in 2007 dozens of food alerts warned of cut and packaged spinach being recalled after evidences of E.coli contamination were found in shipments from a West Coast grower.

All of the alerts centered around factory farms. The debate continues as to sources, some blaming water runoffs from nearby hills flush with wild animals, mostly deer. Regardless, such alerts should get major attention from the FDA.

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TALK Topic: For our survival, USA needs a Food Czar...
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Canned Death Swamps USA Food Stores;
This from The Wall Street Journal
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Who's Monitoring Chinese Food Exports?


By NICHOLAS ZAMISKA
April 9, 2007; Page B1

HONG KONG -- Tainted foods from China are becoming a growing problem as the country plays a greater part in the global food chain. Chemical use is high, regulations are lax, and while the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has the authority to check imports for contaminants that are in violation of U.S. law, it is able to physically inspect only a small fraction of them.

Late last month (March, 2007), the FDA said it had traced the culprit in the deaths of more than a dozen cats and dogs in the U.S. to contaminated wheat gluten produced thousands of miles away in Jiangsu province, China. The wheat gluten ended up in pet foods sold in stores across America run by Kroger Co., Safeway Inc., Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and others. It is far from clear how many pets have been affected, but the number could rise. The FDA says it has received more than 10,000 complaints.

The Chinese wheat gluten was contaminated by an industrial chemical called melamine, which is used to make plastics, glue and fire retardants but is also used as a fertilizer in Asia, according to the FDA. It may have led to kidney failure in the animals, although the FDA says it isn't yet certain how exactly the pets died. The Chinese company, Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Co., has denied shipping wheat gluten to the U.S. Contaminated foods from China have shown up overseas before. In 2002, frozen spinach shipped to Japan was found to have high levels of the pesticide chlorpyrifos. Late last year, Hong Kong health officials halted imports of turbot from mainland China that contained a banned substance called malachite green, an antifungal agent that may cause cancer.

Over the years, foreign governments have also found and rejected Chinese exports of honey containing the antibiotic chloramphenicol, crushed peppers with pesticides and seafood contaminated with veterinary drugs, to name only a few examples, according to Helen Jensen, professor of economics who works on food safety issues and international trade at Iowa State University. The pet-food case, she says, shows how, as the food system has become global in sourcing, "we're vulnerable to what goes on throughout the world."

China's contamination problems stem in large part from its loose regulations and highly fragmented food production. Hundreds of millions of small farmers grow its food, and they rely heavily on chemicals to coax production out of intensively cultivated soils and to fight pests. The result: "China has one of the world's highest rates of chemical fertilizer use per hectare, and Chinese farmers use many highly toxic pesticides, including some that are banned in the United States," according to a report published last November by the economic-research service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

More than a dozen government agencies are responsible for ensuring the safety of China's food supply, and coordination and communication among them is a often a problem, notes Henk Bekedam, the World Health Organization's chief representative in China. "Despite many efforts, food regulations and standards have been developed in an ad hoc way without the benefit of a basic food law," he adds.

The FDA has the power to stop shipments at the border and collect samples and test for certain contaminants that may be in violation of U.S. regulations. Last month, it refused 215 shipments from mainland China for various reasons. A shipment of dried red dates from Chongqing was considered filthy, frozen swordfish from Shandong contained a poisonous substance and ginseng from Changsha had unsafe pesticides.

But the food shipments that get tested are the exception, not the rule. "The volume of food imports from overseas is approaching 10 million per year, and the number that FDA inspectors physically examine is in the single digit thousands -- making it virtually certain that any given food shipment will enter the United States with no FDA inspection," William Hubbard, a retired associate commissioner of the FDA, said in Senate testimony in July 2006. "I could provide many more similar statistics, all of which paint a picture of an FDA regulatory structure that is under-resourced, understaffed and essentially incapable of meeting" many of its responsibilities on ensuring food safety.

In many cases, the burden of ensuring that food shipped out of China is safe falls on the foreign buyers, who negotiate with Chinese producers over what quality standards the food must meet.

A spate of poisoning cases in China has forced the government to publicly address the problem at home, even though it is unclear how much progress has been made towards improving safety. One of the most high-profile incidents occurred in 2004, when more than a dozen infants died after their mothers unknowingly fed them fake milk powder that had little or no nutritional value. Chinese television stations broadcast images of sick and dead babies that were fed the counterfeit formula.

Last November, Chinese authorities found that poultry farmers in Hebei province were adding Sudan B, a cancer-causing red dye used in industrial manufacturing, to the feed of their ducks. The dye caused the ducks to lay eggs with a reddish yolks instead of yellow ones, fetching a higher price.

"Food safety is a problem for China," says Mao Qunan, spokesman for China's Ministry of Health in Beijing. However, he adds that "So many times the media says the problem is so big, so huge. But I don't agree with these comments on the safety of the food."

In 2005, the Ministry of Health reported that 9,021 people were stricken by food poisoning, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency. Of the 235 deaths that year, around half were caused by poisonous chemicals in the food. The rest were from bacterial contamination and other causes.

But those numbers may understate the problem because it is often difficult to pinpoint the cause of such illnesses in rural China. At least 300 million people are estimated to be affected by food-borne disease in China each year, according to Mr. Bekedam of the WHO. The WHO estimates that food-borne disease costs China between $4.7 billion and $14.0 billion a year in medical-care expenses and loss of productivity.

Meanwhile, China's food problems are becoming the world's problems, as agriculture exports surge. As of last year, China accounted for about 12% of global trade in fruits and vegetables, challenging U.S. producers in three main areas, including apple juice, fresh apples and fresh vegetables, according to a USDA report published last year. The U.S. is China's largest market for exports of apple juice. China's agricultural exports to the U.S. have soared over the past three decades, rising to $2.26 billion in 2006 from $133 million in 1980, according to the USDA.

The current problems with pet foods began in mid-March. Ontario-based Menu Foods Inc., which produces major brands like Eukanuba and Iams, recalled its "cuts and gravy" style pet food in cans and pouches after receiving information that pets that ate the product had fallen ill. The recall was later extended to more products. Within nearly a week of the recall, the company received complaints or expressions of concern from about 200,000 consumers.

The FDA suggested that ChemNutra Inc., a Las Vegas-based supplier of wheat gluten to Menu Foods, had received contaminated gluten from Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Co. in Jiangsu. The U.S. government halted shipments of wheat gluten to ChemNutra and is now requiring that all shipments of wheat gluten from China be scrutinized.

China is carrying out a nationwide inspection on the quality of its wheat gluten, a report from state-run Xinhua news agency said Friday. A manager of Xuzhou Anying, surnamed Mao, told Reuters last week that his company never sold any wheat gluten to the U.S. "I don't understand how come they are blaming us," he said. But when representatives from ChemNutra met with Mr. Mao on March 31 in China to discuss the alleged contamination, he "was apologetic and embarrassed and promised to do an investigation," said a person familiar with the matter. This person said that the wheat gluten was shipped through an intermediary before arriving in the U.S.

Reached at the company on Friday, a manager who gave his name as Mao Lijun, who may or may not have been the same Mr. Mao, said that he was busy and hung up his phone when asked about the allegations.

Wheat gluten -- a mixture to two proteins -- is used as a thickening agent in pet food gravy and is in many products for humans, from cereals to pasta. Exports from China have been brisk, with demand exceeding supply this year, according to Li Wenxin, sales manager at Qingdao Wansheng Chemical Co., a trading company in Shandong province that exports wheat gluten to several countries, including Australia, India, Italy and Russia. The FDA says there is no evidence that any of the wheat gluten imported from Xuzhou Anying Biologic has entered the human food supply.

Marc Ullman, a lawyer for ChemNutra, said that at this point, it is still not completely clear how the wheat gluten became contaminated. The wheat gluten that was imported from China wasn't tested for melamine, and testing for the chemical isn't routinely done in the industry, he said. "There's no way to test every container of food for every potential toxin coming into the United States."-- Tang Hanting contributed to this article.

Write to NicholasZamiska nicholas.zamiska@wsj.com



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